Explaining Subtle Activism

Can the power of our collective prayers and intentions help to facilitate social healing and global transformation?

David Nicol explains the rational behind the Gaiafield Project that we mentioned yesterday:

Conventional approaches to activism, embedded in the dominant modern paradigm of materialism, tend to promote direct engagement in the overt structures of the political arena (e.g., street demonstrations, lobbying campaigns, legal actions) as the most effective means to bring about positive social change. However, in keeping with the emergence in many intellectual disciplines and cultural developments of a more holistic or integral vision of reality (in which the subtler, inner dimensions of human experience are being reclaimed), it may be time to broaden our understanding of the possibilities open to today’s activist. In particular, we can start to recognize more subtle forms of activism that utilize the active potential of consciousness to positively influence the social and political sphere.

For the purposes of this short article, I will define subtle activism as “contemplative practices intended to positively influence the social realm.” A prime example is a globally-synchronized meditation and prayer event, in which thousands of people from all around the world join together in shared silence and prayers for peace. The idea is that the focused mental, emotional and/or spiritual attention of a group can in and of itself exert a subtle positive influence on the social realm. An underlying concept is that consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of the brain, but a non-local field in which we are embedded.

The idea of subtle activism is scientifically supported by the results of the Global Consciousness Project (in which significant correlations have been demonstrated between events that capture the world’s attention and non-random activity in a global network of random number generators) and by research into the so-called “Maharishi Effect” (in which 23 studies published in peer-reviewed academic journals show highly significant correlations between the practice of TM meditation by large groups and improvements in social indicators like crime rates).

With the increasing sophistication of the Internet and the (associated) emergence of a planetary consciousness, global meditation and prayer events are becoming more and more popular (see, for instance, www.gaiafield.net). It is as though a common dream is arising from within the heart of humanity – to experience the beauty of our planetary togetherness. French paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin had the same dream over seventy years ago, predicting an evolutionary leap to a new planetary ‘organicosocial supercomplex,’ fuelled by the attraction of humans toward the emerging possibility of global unity consciousness. Global meditation events, especially those incorporating new Internet audio-visual technologies, give participants a direct and emotionally moving experience of this emerging reality. While the potential of this practice has scarcely been tapped, I contend that subtle forms of activism like global meditation and prayer, especially when integrated with more conventional forms of activism, can play a crucial unifying role in any holistic approach to social change and global transformation.

More Information about David:

David Nicol is the Director of the Gaiafield Project (www.gaiafield.net), which aims to support the emergence of a global network of spiritual peacemakers who will participate in regular global meditation and prayer events for world peace. In partnership with a growing consortium of peace-building organizations, the Gaiafield Project will convene a series of global meditation events, including a Wiser USA Global Meditation on the eve of the US elections in November 2008. David is currently writing his PhD dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies on the topic of subtle activism.

3 Comments Explaining Subtle Activism

  1. AvatarJohn M. Knapp, LMSW

    Regarding the Maharishi Effect that you mention: This “effect” has never replicated by nonmembers of the Maharishi’s movement, Transcendental Meditation. Many critics consider Transcendental Meditation a cult led by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. For an alternative view of the TM Movement, readers may be interested in checking out TM-Free Blog, TranceNet.net, or my counseling site, KnappFamilyCounseling.com/cultsb.html, where individuals recovering from Transcendental Meditation and similar groups will find helpful information.

    John M. Knapp, LMSW

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    I would have my own general remark to the approach described above. The way I see it, what matters most is real-life concrete action, but it is obvious that such concrete engagement can be strengthened by a full awareness of possible subtle forces at work. Any technique that creates stronger bonds in the community, such as those described above, would be beneficial to the resolve of those involved. However, when such practices take the place of concrete action, replace such engagement with only prayers and meditations, then that would be problematic from my point of view. Of course, I do not know enough about this initiative to judge it one way or another.


  3. AvatarDavid Nicol

    In the last sentence of the above article I wrote “I contend that subtle activism, especially when integrated with more conventional forms of activism, can play a crucial unifying role in any holistic approach to social change…” I agree that any proposal to replace concrete action with only meditation and prayers could justifiably be critiqued as ungrounded, yet when the subtle/spiritual activity works in concert with intelligent on-the-ground social change efforts, the combined effect can be extremely powerful. A good case study is the Sarvodaya organization in Sri Lanka. For decades they have run wonderful grassroots village development programs in thousands of Sri Lankan villages, and they have also convened numerous huge peace meditations – one of them involved over 600,000 people! Sarvodaya’s holistic approach to social change has proven to be extraordinarily effective at spreading a culture of peace amidst the bitter struggle between the Tamil Tigers and Sinhalese-identified government.

    In our Gaiafield Project, we have always aimed to build bridges between the “consciousness” movement and the “sustainability/social justice” movement (or between the ‘being’ and ‘doing’ realms of social change). However, I will also add that in a culture that has long had a bias (because of the dominant worldview of materialism) for seeing only the overt, measurable phenomenon as real and/or valuable, we need to especially highlight the particular power and potential of the subtle type of action to play a crucial role in collective healing.

    In terms of the comment about the so-called “Maharishi Effect” research, to simply suggest that TM is a cult is not a valid argument against the evidence presented in 23 studies that have been published in peer-reviewed journals that show consistent correlations between the practice of TM meditation in large groups and improvements in social indicators such as crime rates in nearby populations. I agree that independent validation by non-TM scientists is needed to verify the claims, but it should be pointed out that (as far as I know) no independent replications have yet been attempted. I am not a TM practitioner and I have my own critiques of the movement, but when you look closely at the Maharishi Effect studies, you really have to give them their due, because they comply very well with currently accepted standards of science (which is why they were accepted by peer-reviewed journals, some of which are highly prestigious, such as Yale’s Journal of Conflict Resolution). Criticisms which do not address flaws in the design or analysis or execution of the experiments but are merely polemical attacks do little to advance the scientific conversation.

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